Canadian Woodworking

Furniture from recycled wood

Author: Mike Taylor
Published: February March 2004
bed from recycled lumber
bed from recycled lumber

There is almost an unlimited supply of free wood that is available for you to use in your woodworking hobby.

That is, if you know where to look, and don’t mind doing a little extra work. The source of wood I am talking about for the furniture I made is from shipping skids and pallets.

I started using this supply of free wood just after my younger brother started working for a local industrial fabricator. He purchased a house with a wood stove in it, and started to bring skids from work to burn. They would be dropped off at my father’s house, where he would take them apart. Whenever I needed a small piece of wood for a project, I would go and look through the pile, and take what I needed. I didn’t really notice that the runners of these skids were hardwood, until some of them were already cut up and piled. He offered to let me take all the good pieces, and he would burn the rest. So far, I have taken enough wood to build quite a few projects, and still have enough to build a lot more.

Getting the wood ready to use does take a bit of work. First, make sure you remove all the nails. Then, go back over the wood and look for other metal. I have found skids (that had been put together with power nailers) will sometimes have small pieces of wire in the nail holes. This wire is used to hold all the nails together for loading into the nailer. If you miss these, you can expect to go through a few sets of jointer/planer knives. Safety glasses are a must when using this wood and an even better idea, would be the use of a full-face shield.

I store the wood inside in such a way that it can get a bit of airflow around it. I also have an air conditioner running in the shop in the summer which helps to remove some moisture from the wood. I cut the parts to a rough size, and let them sit for a week or two, to help lower the moisture in the wood. I don’t yet have a moisture meter, but I do plan on getting one.

To find a good source of free wood in your area, look for companies that work with steel, aluminum, or anything they might import that is heavy. A good place to start would be the telephone directory.

If you have a friend that works in any kind of industry, chances are they will have some skids destined for the landfill. If you live in a small town that doesn’t have any large manufacturers, don’t worry, you can still get wood. Although it may not be free, it can still be very inexpensive. Just start going to yard sales and look for junky old furniture. Chances are it is made from good, reusable wood.

In the Thunder Bay area, I have noticed that this wood supply seems to be used mainly for crafts. Even if you don’t use it for a complete project, it still makes good wood for hidden framework. Also, you can use it to make a lot of the smaller parts for a project.

Over the last couple of years I have made quite a few pieces of furniture out of recycled wood. My first skid wood project was a small stand I copied from a piece my sister bought at a yard sale. My favorite so far, has to be the small, quarter-sawn oak end table. My largest (and most recent) project is a bed with matching nightstands, made out of Oak and Maple.

My most meaningful recovery to date is the card box I made for our wedding. It was made from a small table I found in my father’s garage. The table had been used for various automotive tinkerings, and was going to be tossed out. This table had been picked up at a yard sale for a couple of dollars and has now become a family heirloom.

Wedding card box from Dad’s table
Wedding card box from Dad’s table

There are a lot of benefits to using such recycled wood. For instance: it is free, it isn’t going to a landfill site, companies don’t have to pay someone to haul it away. It also means that fewer trees will be cut down.

Quarter-sawn oak stool
Quarter-sawn oak stool

The variety of woods you come across is truly impressive. So far, I have in my little treasure trove: Oak, Maple, Hickory, Walnut, and Cherry. If you get the chance to try using this free resource, I recommend doing so. You never know, you just may become hooked on it.

Quarter-sawn oak chair
Quarter-sawn oak chair

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